Voices were whispering in Dirk's dream.
What do you mean you LOST him? You can't just lose...
The guy said it was safe! And Dirk wanted to try...
Oh, NICE going, Sharktank!
Hey, you can't talk to me that way! I'm the one who has to pay his salary! I pay YOUR salary!
And then another voice, more familiar, something he knew had been said to him long ago. A soft, German voice. "Relax Dirk," the voice said. "The brain is your friend and it wants to help you."
Whose voice? Why did it seem so familiar? He could almost remember the name...a fast person...Geschwinder?
The voices shut off.
Dirk rolled his shoulders and stood slowly to avoid the low ceiling. He lit the rushlamp on the wall with a match and opened the shutters. He could feel it, the pale shape of a memory pressing against his mind, but then, white fin disappearing in midnight waters, it vanished into the ink of his subconscious, leaving him alone. This seemed to happen more and more lately. And in another way, less and less.
The brain is your friend and it wants to help you. But sometimes it doesn't know how to help. Sometimes, caught between two competing concepts of help it vacillates. It tugs itself in too many directions to be heard.
Dirk rubbed his aching muscles, sore, as always, from the crude bed, and shrugged himself into his costume, his cape. Outside, through the wooden window frame the sun rose, mulberry red, casting spears of ruby light through the gaps in the younger hills. And as they rose, a sound rose with them, dull on the morning air: The steady sound of the clip-clop of the oxen on the hard Earth, at their steady task.
Your chariot has arrived, his mind thought, amused. It was the custom-made carriage which Fidelio, the ringmaster, had had made for him, which was the closest thing on Earth he had to luxury. Not that he owned it. But it was for him. And for him alone. Until he got too old, he chuckled to himself. 37 was old, of course. But he felt good, strong.
The 14th century had been good to Dirk.
The brain is your friend. But sometimes the job of a friend is not to show you the way back, it's to help you move on.
Something pressed against his mind again, then vanished. The spells were getting shorter, whatever they were.
He stepped out into the damp morning and into the carriage. They called it a circus, and he was the star of it. The "Teutonic Giant". All the great cities, London, Paris, Lisbon, Mainz....Men and women would come, and pay good money just for the sight of him, he knew, but that wasn't his act. Not like the painted lady or the world's fattest man, he didn't just sit there. No. They came to watch him play.
It was a simple game, but they came from all over to see him in action. Fidelio would set up an iron wheel-rim on a pole, 10-feet high. And he would do tricks with an inflated bladder. First, up close, throwing it through the rim. Then farther. Then farther. Then with his back turned to it. Then with his back turned, springing up into mid-air, his body at a 45 degree angle to the ground, never even grazing the rim. Every time.
In the back hallway of his mind he heard the missing sound, the sound he knew, somehow, should be there. Swish. And sometimes, sometimes he was troubled by a stray thought...
Didn't this used to be... harder?
Sometimes his mind would conjure up impossible, terrifying images. A field full of snarling giants, big as himself, as if there could be any. Rippling with muscles, leaping higher than the show horses, hands upraised. Trying to stop him, desperate to. Sharp whistles, a roaring sound...
And somehow, something about that struck him as...fun?
He'd noticed, lately, that the images had been losing color.
The brain is your friend. It just wants to help. But it may not be what you think of as help.
That night more words, but fainter.
"Time travel? TIME TRAVEL?! A guy pitches you for startup cash on TIME TRAVEL and you let DIRK try it first? You don't think, hey, maybe let's send a hamster, or maybe let's give Crowder a shot first, maybe don't risk..."
The words were pounding on the outside of the glass prison of his mind, but the voices were fading, growing farther away.
Another morning. He got up, he put on his cape. Dirk, the Teutonic Giant, out to dazzle his fans once more.
His mind tried to think "there's no way back," but it came out as "there's nothing other than this."